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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Quotation Marks
How easy it would be for me, as a white woman, to ignore the elephant in the room

In Times of Crisis

In Times of Crisis


It’s hardly been a quiet month since our last issue. Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being eased; George Floyd’s death at the hands of US police has triggered racial tensions; and Dominic Cummings remains in situ but under threat of private prosecution. Meanwhile, we’re longing for our hairdressers to reopen. On a serious note, the profession is at a critical point. Criminal legal aid firms are quietly closing their doors as the effects of the pandemic crisis bites. It is somewhat ironic that a significant reduction in crime during the lockdown is directly prompting the closure of criminal firms. True, it is the straw that broke the camel’s back following years of warnings to central government that the criminal justice system is at breaking point.

When will government open its ears – or is it too late for that? Another notable development is MPs’ backing of the divorce bill which paves the way for no-fault divorce. The notion of fault will, instead, be effectively replaced by six months’ ‘notice to quit’. This has been widely welcomed but the bill is not without its opponents. Proponents for change say it will reduce the emotional burden on the parties and argue that the current law is oldfashioned. Opponents say the proposed law proves the government has lost its moral compass and provides an easy way out for an unhappy spouse. One senior partner illustrated this concern (probably inadvertently) with an anecdote from lockdown: “We had one divorce which didn’t progress because the clients had spent so long in lockdown talking – they’d effectively mediated themselves out of a split.” (see p22).

Will the cynics or the campaigners for change get to say, ‘I told you so’? It will be interesting to see what the divorce figures suggest once the new law is bedded in – along with the accounts of the parties and divorce lawyers. How easy it would be for me, as a white woman, to ignore the elephant in the room. But I’d fail in my professional and moral duties if I didn’t mention the issue of systemic racism. That this has surfaced once again is not unusual, but what is notable this time around is how tensions have quickly spread. Global protests have been sparked – along with the removal of slave trader statues in righteous anger or acts of criminal damage (take your pick).

This unease has trickled down into the profession and rightly so. Accounts of unforgiveable racial discrimination have emerged from lawyers previously too reticent to speak out. Leon-Nathan Lynch, who is described today by fellow barristers as a rising star at the bar, was told while at university that he wasn’t good enough to be a barrister. He is 31 and has been stopped and searched seven times. He has been unlawfully arrested a number of times and he’s been humiliated. One day, he had no choice but to arrive at work with muddy police dog paw marks on his suit. So what’s to be done within the profession? Trevor Sterling, a lawyer of 35 years, provides readers with a measured response to these issues, acknowledging that he’s always been aware that people on both sides find discussions on racism uncomfortable (see p13).

Unconscious bias training is a great place to start. Sterling says with a problem that’s systemic, it is important for people to challenge themselves to explore biases they may not openly be aware of. Solicitors Journal aims to play its part in tackling this issue. Unless we consciously work to give a voice to the very people whose voices are silenced by blatant racism, or supressed by unconscious bias, we fail the profession and society as a whole.